In January 2020, Layla* came to Arizona from Ethiopia as an unaccompanied refugee minor. She didn’t know any English and had never been to school.
Refugee children, like Layla, have lost or become separated from their parents and relatives due to war or persecution. Many have suffered horrific experiences at young ages in their home countries. As a result, some children are brought to the United States by the U.S. government. Catholic Charities finds caring foster homes for some of these foreign-born children.
Once these children arrive in Arizona, Catholic Charities immediately enrolls them in school and places them in a loving foster homes where they will feel safe and begin a new life in their new country.
Language and Education
Layla found a new home with the Smith* family. The Smiths wanted to become foster parents after learning about fostering unaccompanied refugee minors. They knew they had to do it.
They welcomed Layla with open arms. As a new high school student with no school experience or English language skills, they focused on getting her the tools she needed to help her communicate and catch up with her peers.
Becca Swick, Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Case Manager, is impressed with Smith’s commitment to Layla. “The foster family has been extremely active with her education, connecting her with English classes after school twice a week and requesting math tutoring. They noticed her difficulty in knowing the sounds of each letter, and now have gotten her Hooked on Phonics on her phone, which she is speeding through,” she said.
Like other Arizona students, Layla is not in class during the pandemic. Swick contacted the Smiths to help set up alternative education, but they had already done it. Layla is making the most of her time out of school with five hours of education each day using Rosetta Stone, Hooked on Phonics and Khan Academy.
Keeping the Culture
In addition to academics, the Smith family wanted Layla to have strong connections to her culture. “In her first week, they took her to the closest Ethiopian grocery store so that they could buy Ethiopian food. While there, they talked to the workers who recommended mosques in the area that share Layla’s native language,” said Swick.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, “The family made it a priority to drive Layla to Mosque each Friday that she did not have school. Recently, they were invited to attend an Ethiopian Women’s monthly meeting, and Layla and her foster mother attended.” At this meeting, Layla met two Ethiopian women that she has built a relationship with. Layla invited the women to her foster home where she prepared them all a meal.
Thriving in America
The effort Layla and her foster family are investing in her success is impressive. Foster families have monthly home visits with their agency, and often interpreters are used to help communicate so that everyone understands what is happening and any needs.
During a recent home visit, the Smiths, Layla and Swick were meeting when the interpreter was unexpectedly cut off. To Swick’s surprise, Layla understood almost everything being said in English and was able to respond in English! “I am truly blown away by her progress,” said Swick. “I think a lot of it is due to how helpful the Smiths have been for her education and going out of the way to connect her with Ethiopian women in the community.”
*Names changed to protect the privacy of our clients.